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Photo Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

Game Notes Senators @ Oilers: Start Another Streak

It isn’t how you start, it is how you finish. In their three games against Toronto the Oilers came out ready to play for the first seven or eight minutes, but then allowed a goal and couldn’t recover and lost all three games. On Saturday, the Oilers got blitzed in the first period, allowing 21 shots, but Mike Smith kept them in the game until they found their stride, thanks to Dave Tippett shuffling the lines and putting Connor McDavid with Leon Draisaitl and Jesse Puljujarvi for a stretch, and then placing Kailer Yamamoto in Puljujarvi’s spot.

The moves paid off, and the Oilers earned a much needed 3-2 victory. Now they host the scrappy Ottawa Senators for three consecutive games starting tonight.

— Since January 31st the Oilers are 4-0 against the Senators, but the Sens are 8-7 against the other five teams in the North Division. Edmonton can’t take them lightly, and they need to take advantage of a team who played last night in Calgary. The Senators will give up chances, and Edmonton needs to capitalize, but if the Oilers think they can play loose against the Senators, they are mistaken. They are competitive and I expect Edmonton will give them the respect they deserve.

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— Drake Batherson has nine goals in the past 19 games, while Brady Tkachuk and Colin White each have seven. White and Batherson have made the Senators much more dangerous offensively, and they have seven players with 10 more point points since January 30th. They are still a bit leaky defensively, but their offence has improved.

— Twelve Oilers have scored a goal against the Sens this season. Leon Draisaitl leads the way with nine points (2-7-9), while Darnell Nurse has the most goals with three. Draisaitl and Connor McDavid (eight points) have averaged over two-points/game this season, and they will be playing as linemates. I envision Dave Tippett running with that line for a few games until the team is playing more like they did prior to their three-game skid against Toronto. We know playing them as a line isn’t ideal long term, but for short spurts, I can see why he does it. They’ve been incredibly productive this season when playing together.

— They have played a total of 58:58 together at 5×5 this season. They’ve scored nine goals and haven’t allowed one according to Natural Stat Trick. McDavid has played 372 minutes without Draisaitl and he has been on the ice for 15 goals for and 20 against. When those two play together it is magical to watch, and I get why Tippett might keep them together for a few more games before inevitably splitting them back up.

— McDavid endured the third longest pointless streak of his career, before assisting on Jesse Puljujarvi’s second period goal Saturday night. It was only the third time in six seasons he went 200+ minutes without picking up a point. Crazy. He went 217:24 dating back to the third period in Vancouver on February 27th and his assist two nights ago. The only longer droughts were 245:45 (Oct 16th-24th, 2020) and 255:55 (December 27th, 2018 to January 4th, 2019). It is pretty remarkable that McDavid has never gone four consecutive games without a point, and only three times has he been held pointless in three consecutive games.

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— Ideally, the Oilers need another top-six winger. Dominik Kahun is a not a top-six in my eyes. The Oilers have very little cap space to add a winger, but I wonder when Zack Kassian returns if Yamamoto or Puljujujarvi can play LW. When Kassian was playing well he was more effective as a top-six winger than Kahun, and if one of the right wingers can move to the left side I’d consider it later this month.

— Speaking of Puljujarvi, I love how excited he gets when he scores or when he’s on the ice and a teammate scores. On a team that isn’t overly outwardly emotional, it is great to see him, every time, celebrate with pure enthusiasm. I hope he never loses that, because scoring is hard, and you should get excited.

— Despite three losses to Toronto the Oilers are still 12-5 since January 30th, and have the fifth best points% and fifth most total points in that span. The Oilers didn’t play good enough for three games, but don’t let that overshadow how well they’ve played for the past five weeks. The Toronto series was a good reminder of areas they need to improve on, but overall the Oilers have taken big strides since a rough first 17 days of the season.

— Since January 30th Edmonton is fifth in goals/game at 3.35, but more importantly they are ninth in goals against/game at 2.76. If they can remain a top-10 team in GA/game the rest of the way they will be a legit contender to win a few rounds in the North division. Reducing their goals against has been a priority for years and finally they are trending in the right direction. They still have a ways to go of course, because in three of their five losses they allowed six goals. They allowed 18 goals in those three games, but only 29 in their other 14 games. Still a work in progress, but they are trending in the right direction.

— I’ve had four different NHL goalie personnel text me about Mike Smith. “He looks like a completely different goalie,” said one. “How he moves and recovers is vastly different,” said another. All were impressed by how well he has played and they feel it isn’t just a hot streak. “He has changed how he moves and recovers,” replied one. I don’t know what a realistic Sv% is the rest of the way (he is currently at .925Sv%), but the goalie people I’ve spoken with are very impressed by the new changes in his approach.

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— Since Smith made his debut on February 8th, he has made 10 starts. That is tied for fifth most with Matt Murray, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Jordan Binnington and Tristan Jarry. Joonas Korpisalo, Marc-Andre Fleury, Connor Hellebuyck and Semyon Varlamov have all made 11 starts in that span. Eight other goalie have made nine starts, so 17 teams have had a goalie start 9-11 games in the past month. I don’t think Smith has been overused. He’s played well and is deserving of the 10 starts.

— Edmonton has four sets of back-to-back games among their next 15 games, and I expect Mikko Koskinen will get a few more starts. I expect Smith and Koskinen will each get two starts over the next four games, and I could see the next 15 games being a 9-6 split or 8-7. Koskinen will start tonight.

—Episode nine of the DFO Rundown is live. You can listen here. Frank Seravalli mentioned he didn’t like the NHL’s “process” for the Tom Wilson suspension. And Jarret Stoll joined us to discuss Daryl Sutter as a coach, the time they locked him out of the room, Stoll’s role in player development for the LA Kings, the Kings surprise start and his best and worst golfing teammates. The Pod is available anywhere you download podcasts.

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